For individuals who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could have a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London evaluated the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the outcome of the study illustrated the effect and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the key measure researchers looked at, enrolling 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. knowing that the children with implants had difficulty understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers developed control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For children in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a great deal of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this research is only one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the goal of this study which examined 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst those who were musically trained and those who weren’t was substantial.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was absent, both groups had similar results, but when any level of background noise was added, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory areas of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. According to the study’s findings, musical training strengthened the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
It’s important to note that while the musicians observed were adults, they all began their musical training at a much younger age and acquired at least ten years of musical training. This again backs the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Battle With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most famous composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was most likely the conduit for extending his musical career. Through the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost entirely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most beloved pieces came during his last 15 years.